The Florida Indians
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Commencement of the Late Florida War
“Hark, that quick, fierce cry,
That rends the utter silence; tis the whoop
Of battle, and a throng of savage men,
With naked arms, and faces stained like blood,
Fill the green wilderness.
Soon the conquerors
And conquered vanish, and the dead remain,
Gashed horribly with tomahawks.” Bryant.
Treaty Of Moultrie Creek
After the whole country had passed into the hands of the American government, it was thought necessary to take steps to secure the frontiers of the white settlements from the incursions of the Indians, and to confine the latter to certain specified districts. In the year 1823, there fore, on the 18th of September, a treaty was concluded at the camp on Moultrie Creek, between commissioners from the United States and a number of Seminole chiefs, whereby it was stipulated, that all territory not reserved by the articles should pass to the American government; that the Indians should confine themselves to a large district described by courses and bounds in the heart of the peninsula; that fugitive slaves should be delivered up, the reasonable expenses of securing them being provided for; and that certain sums should be paid by the government to compensate for the expenses and losses of removal, and to establish the Indians comfortably in their new quarters. Various minor particulars were embodied in the treaty, which was signed with mark and seal, on the part of the Seminoles, by the principal chief Micanopy; by Tuske Hajo, Emathlochee, Econchatimico, Tokosemathla (known as Hicks), Charley Amathla, Tustenugge, John Blunt, Mulatto King, Philip, Nea Mathla, and twenty-one others, possessed of or claiming the authority of chiefs.
An exception was made, by an additional article, in favor of six of the signers; who were allowed, in consideration of former services, to remain upon the lands then occupied by them.
Micanopy is described by Williams as a “large fat man, rather obtuse in intellect, but kind to his people and slaves.”
The Indians were removed in accordance with the provisions of the agreement, and, until 1835, no serious hostilities took place between them and the whites. Com plaints were, indeed, made on both sides of unredressed wrongs and outrages. The Alachuan settlers lost their cattle, and attributed the thefts to the Indians: on the other hand, the Indians complained, with justice, of numberless impositions and deceptions to which they were exposed in their intercourse with unprincipled traders and speculators.
To quiet all disturbance it was at last deemed expedient by the American government, to effect an entire removal of the Seminoles to the west of the Mississippi. Accordingly, a meeting was appointed by Micanopy and the government emissaries, to be held at Payne’s Landing, on the Ocklawaha River, on the eighth of May 1832. Fifteen chiefs were present, and, after much argument, signed an agreement, in behalf of themselves and their people, to accede to the proposals of government provided the new lands assigned them should prove acceptable to a deputation from their number who should first go to make examination. The United States were to pay the tribe fifteen thousand four hundred dollars, and the removal was to take place within three years. The authority of the signers of this treaty to bind the whole of the Seminole tribes has been frequently, and with no little reason, called in question. Certain it is, that to a majority of the nation the proposition was highly distasteful.
Treaty Of Payne’s Landing
Several chiefs, with Micanopy’s prime counselor, Abraham, an astute Negro, undertook the survey of the Western Reserve, and signed a writing expressive of their satisfaction with its appearance. It was claimed by the Indians, and their partisans, that some deception was used both in the wording of this certificate, and generally as to the conclusiveness of the arrangements entered into at Payne’s Landing.
As the end of the term prescribed, within which they must leave their homes, drew near, opposition to removal and determination to resist it, continued to gain force among the Indians. They complained of the accounts brought them of the belligerent character of the savages who would be their near neighbors, and strenuously objected to a plan, set on foot at Washington, for uniting their tribe with that of their old enemies the Creeks.
Serious disturbances commenced in 1835. Some months previously, whites had been, upon one or two occasions, fired upon by the Indians, and mutual wrongs, insults, and injuries, had excited general ill-feeling between the two nations. In the month of October, of this year, several Indians were detected in killing a cow near Kenapaha pond, not far from Miccosukie. They were set upon by seven whites, who seized their arms, and commenced beating them with whips. An affray succeeded, in which several were wounded on both sides, and two of the Indians were killed outright. This may be considered to be the commencement of the war: it was the first bloodshed, but was soon followed by other outrages. The mail rider, upon his route from Fort Brooke, on Tampa Bay, to Fort King, fell a victim to Indian revenge; his body was found hacked and mutilated.
It now appeared that the Seminole, determined to maintain their ground, had been, for some time, purchasing and hoarding great stores of arms and ammunition. Their numbers were considerable; they had among them leaders known to be bold, determined, and sagacious; they considered themselves wronged and oppressed; and all these circumstances, combined with their intimate knowledge of the impassable wilderness to which they could at any moment retire, convinced the discerning that a war with them must be fraught with danger and difficulty, and might be indefinitely protracted.
The young chief, Osceola, whose name is more intimately associated than any other with the bloody events that succeeded, now began to attract attention for his acuteness, energy, and determined hostility to the whites. He was a quadroon of the Red Stick (anglicized from the French “Baton Rouge”) tribe, of Miccosukie; his mother being a half-breed, and his father supposed to be an Englishman named Powel a name ordinarily borne by the chief. Osceola had opposed the plan of removal at previous councils, with great vigor, and on one occasion demeaned himself with, such violence that he was seized by General Thompson, the government agent, and kept for a day or two confined in fetters. Dissembling his rage, he, for a time, managed to disarm suspicion; bringing in a great number of his followers, and solemnly ratifying the treaty.
His true purposes and feelings were first known by the part he took in the murder of John Hicks and Charley Amathla, two chiefs who had been prominent in forwarding the treaty of removal. He obtained great ascendancy for himself and followers among the whole nation of the Seminole; and mainly through his influence, instead of collecting their cattle and stock for appraisal, at the time when they were notified that they must leave the country, the warriors of the tribe secreted their women and children in swamps remote from white settlements, and scoured the country in hostile attitude.
Destruction Of Dade’s Command
Troops were ordered to Florida from various quarters. Major Dade, arriving at Tampa Bay, with a company of United States infantry, being reinforced, with two other companies, started on the 4th of December, to the relief of General Clinch, at Fort King. His force consisted of over one hundred regular troops, supplied with ten days provision: they took with them a small field-piece. Some delay occurred upon the march, owing to the difficulty of transporting the cannon, and on the 28th they had advanced no farther than a few miles to the northward of the forks of the Ouithlacoochee. Here they were attacked by an unknown multitude of Indians, under the command of Micanopy, and his brother-in-law, the celebrated Jumper, who had avoided signing the treaty of Moultrie Creek. The savages were crouching among the long wiregrass, and protected by the trunks of the pine-trees, when they commenced their fire. The effect was deadly; Major Dade and a great number of his men were killed at the first discharge. The soldiers continued to fight bravely, sheltering themselves as well as possible behind trees; and, as the Indians rose up, poured in their fire so briskly as to drive the enemy from the field. Every instant was now occupied in forming a slight protection by cutting and piling up the trunks of pines. The Indians, however, soon returned in great force, and, surrounding the little entrenchment, destroyed nearly every man of the company. After they had taken possession of the arms, which lay scattered around, the Indians retired, but a body of mounted negroes are said to have come up and finished the murderous work by knocking out the brains of the wounded. Only four men escaped, being passed over by the Negroes and Indians, as they lay wounded and motionless among the dead bodies. One of these was killed on the following day, while endeavoring to make his way back to the fort: the other three, cautiously threading their path through the wilder ness, arrived safe at Tampa Bay.
On the same day with the destruction of Dade’s command, Osceola revenged himself upon his hated foe, General Wiley Thompson, by whom he had been imprisoned, as before mentioned. A company of nine, among them General Thompson, were dining at the house of a Mr. Rogers, within fifty rods of Fort King, when the house was beset by Indians, and a volley poured in upon the company. Thompson and four others were killed; the rest escaped to the fort.
In the course of the month, various plantations were destroyed in different parts of the country bordering on the Indian reserve, and some skirmishing took place. On the last day of December, General Clinch, who had been stationed at Fort Drane, thirty miles north-west of Fort King, being on his march towards Osceola’s head-quarters with a considerable force of Florida volunteers and about two hundred regular troops, encountered the enemy upon the left bank of the Ouithlacoochee.
The Indians, numbering, as was supposed, about six hundred, headed by Osceola, fell upon the first division of the American army that had affected the passage of the river. The stream, contrary to expectation, was in no place fordable, and the only means of crossing was by a single canoe, the horses passed the river by swimming. The Indian commander evinced great bravery and consummate marksmanship, and his men, firing from the cover of a thick growth of under wood, and from behind trees, proved difficult opponents to dislodge. The troops, with one or two slight exceptions, stood firm, and after repeated charges, drove the Indians from the field. In this engagement more than fifty Americans were wounded, and several killed; the loss of the enemy was reported to have been over one hundred.
Conference With Indian Chiefs, By General Gaines
Additional troops from Louisiana, and forces connected with the marine service, were collected at Tampa Bay; and a large detachment, under General Gaines, marched to Fort King, where they arrived on the 22d of February. Provisions being scarce, and the state of the roads being such that supplies could not be easily procured, Gaines and his force commenced their return to Tampa, by the route formerly taken by Clinch, across the Ouithlacoochee. On the bank of the river, no great distance from the scene of the last battle, the army was, in a manner, surrounded and besieged for more than a week, by Indians, apparently to the number of from one to two thousand. A galling fire was kept up at every exposed point. Word was sent to Fort Drane, where General Clinch was stationed, for relief, as the provisions of the army were nearly expended.
On the 6th of March, a conference was held between the American officers and three of the principal Indian chiefs Osceola, Jumper, and Alligator. The camp had been hailed during the previous night, and a wish for a parley expressed on the part of the savages. The chiefs professed a desire for peace; said they were weary of war, and that, if they could be allowed to retire quietly beyond the Ouithlacoochee, and could remain there unmolested, they would create no further disturbance. They were informed that the general had no authority to conclude any agreement with them, and that their only course was to comply with the requisitions of the government, as forces, which it would be impossible for them to resist, were on their way to enforce submission. The Indian chiefs wished for an opportunity to take counsel with their great King Micanopy, before returning an answer; but General Clinch appearing, with the desired relief, and engaging with a detachment of the Indians, the meeting was broken up. They agreed, however, before retiring, to draw off their warriors to the south bank of the river, and to hold themselves ready to attend further council when notified.
Nothing further was effected, and the combined American forces returned to Fort Drane.